– Minor Spoiler Review –
Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, by Christie Golden, ties into the upcoming Battlefront sequel’s singleplayer campaign, giving readers the story behind the inception of main character Iden Versio’s titular Imperial squad. Filled with nuanced complexity about the war between the Rebellion and the Empire that makes for a gripping, fast-paced read, Inferno Squad is an excellent birth place for the exciting new protagonist Iden Versio, though its short length is both a strength and a weakness that leads to a few, minor other ones.
As mentioned above, Inferno Squad is all about the eponymous Imperial squad’s formation and their first true trial under fire. Put together by Admiral Gerrick Versio of the ISB, the squad is a reaction to the destruction of the first Death Star and Galen Ero’s treachery to the Empire, with their main MO essentially being: root out corruption within the Empire, and they have just about full clearance to do whatever’s necessary (including killing or allowing other Imperials to be killed) to help preserve the sanctity of their government. The Squad is comprised of four members: Iden Versio, a complex and oddly relatable “protagonist” for the Empire, whose grit, determination, and sharp mind make her both a formidable leader and adversary; Gideon Hask, the slightly more zealous Imperial of the group, who has been a long-time friend of Iden’s; Del Meeko, a tech expert who has the right quip at any moment to lighten any situation; and Seyn Marana, a very young Navy Intelligence officer who’s eidetic memory is both her strongest asset and potential greatest weakness. The novel mainly centers around their most important mission: go deep undercover into the final violent, brutal rebel partisan cell called the Dreamers (who seemed to have taken Saw’s final words to heart, “Save the dream!”) to stop their rebellious activity and uncover the source of their Imperial intel. It’s a pretty gripping and exciting tale, made even more intriguing by how Golden writes what is usually a clear dichotomy between Rebel and Imperial into a very blurry space that pulls readers back and forth over who just to root for.
Making the grey aspect to both sides of the fight the most important aspect of this book was a stroke of genius on Christie Golden’s part. It’s fun to read about Imperial characters one can actually sympathize or relate to, even if and when their conviction and actions go clearly against what is typical for the “good guys.” Interestingly enough, one might think this means Inferno Squad is made up of anti-heroes, but really they are heroes for the Empire, so they’re more like villains than anything else. At the same time, the members of the Dreamers end up being more of the grey we’ve come to see surrounding Rogue One as well, making them the good guys readers will care about, but might not always agree with as their actions and convictions also don’t set easily within our usual heroic ideals. This push and pull over who to root for or like is an absolutely fascinating aspect of the novel, and I have to admit I found myself siding more with our Imperial “heroes” than the Dreamers throughout the novel. However, this aspect would’ve have been as compelling or as possible if Golden didn’t write some great characters.
Iden Versio is one helluva a character to read, as seeing everything through someone’s eyes who doesn’t sway in her loyalty to the Empire (and isn’t some larger-than-life character like Tarkin) is a breath of protagonist fresh air. Part of the reason I enjoy her character so much is how intrinsically linked both Iden and Janina Gavankar, the actress who plays her in the game, truly are, as her enthusiasm, commitment, and excitement for the role since her EA Play appearance has been infectious. Whether its her story about getting the role/reaching out to Golden regarding the book as told in her The Star Wars Show interview, coming out to SDCC to sign for the book, or chatting about Iden in character at D23, she’s been a visible and enjoyable presence. Even without that, Golden and the novel certainly make Iden a compelling character alone. Her struggle isn’t with what they are doing for the Empire insomuch it’s rather about her constant push to better herself, the literal distance from her mother, and the more figurative distance from her father, who’s parenting would make it hard for her to ever consider him an actual father (yup, more daddy issues in Star Wars). Thankfully, all those issues seem to hold equal weight and her overall struggle is just as much about how she treats herself as she was treated by her father growing up, leading to the daddy issues not feeling as rote as usual. I’m extremely excited to see more of her tale, making the wait for the game even more difficult. The rest of Inferno Squad is just as likable for all their own myriad of reasons, besides maybe Gideon Hask, whose zealousness is the only reason I didn’t connect with him as much as the rest (though I believe this is on purpose, especially for things ahead in the game). Otherwise, both Del and Seyn were also approachable protagonists despite being Imperials, with Del providing some good, solid humor and Seyn having the most interesting conflict as their undercover mission goes on longer than anyone anticipated.
However, the book’s length is a double-edged vibroblade: on one hand, the shorter page count allows Golden to tell a very tight and focused tale, but on the other, it holds back the relatability of the characters as well as ends up making the story’s bigger beats rather predictable. As much as I’ve gushed about Iden and the rest of the squad, the shorter length of the book doesn’t allow us to spend as much time with the characters as I would’ve liked, and because Golden hops POVs rather often, it doesn’t really give any one member of the squad the time they need to make me truly care for them, devious Imperial actions besides. Likewise this goes for the Dreamers as well, like their leader Staven, the Mentor, Piikow (a Chadra-Fan mechanic) or even Sadori (Seyn’s setup romance), who get fine but cursory focuses that prevented the rather brutal ending from hitting me as hard as I’d been told the ending might just be. Maybe had it been longer, we could’ve spent even more time the characters, who were certainly interesting enough to warrant more time. Building on that, the overall arc of the story and how things end isn’t full of much surprise, though those who haven’t watched The Clones Wars (or even those who have) will have a pleasant, but emotional surprise with a certain character’s true identity, one I sniffed out, but wasn’t totally sure on, before the reveal; those who don’t know of the character will have a great reason to check out some exciting episodes of the animated show if they so choose. Also not surprising was the fates of Inferno Squad themselves, as most of what you’d expect to happen does to allow this elite squad to be exactly that so they can fight another day in the singleplayer campaign of the upcoming game, while any BTS footage and images for the game will spoil the Squad’s big loss. That being said, this all still means emotional investment in these characters will be greater for those who read this book and then play the game, as the added backstory should give more meaning to the events within (though time will tell on that).
UPDATE 11/26/17: Inferno Squad’s story continues in Battlefront II and here’s my review!
Here are a few other things:
- Considering Golden’s previous title in canon was Dark Disciple, I would say getting to read a more original tale from her helped alleviate some of my trepidation about her writing Inferno Squad as having to adapt The Clone Wars scripts for the previous novel is now for the sure the reason I took issue with that book’s writing instead of something from her own style.
- There were some neat little cameos or mentions of other Star Wars characters/eevnts in the novel, including pro-Imperial newsman Alton Kastle (first introduced in Star Wars Rebels), Staven’s reveals some feelings about Saw’s adopted child, Jyn Erso, and the female Pantoran pirate is from Dark Disciple and a Star Wars Insider story. There are also some characters from Beth Revis’ excellent Rebel Rising novel, so reading that will certainly give you a bit of an edge. And a reference to Star Wars Annual #1‘s events with the prison also got snuck in!
- I really like the parallels with the Terracotta Army and the mystery Del and Piikow uncover regarding the previous inhabitants of the planet the Dreamers base is on!
- I wish the novel had spent a little time at the end showing Iden gaining back public Imperial opinion for her, considering the lengths they went to make her “betrayal” of the Empire feel real so the Dreamers would take her in.
- The Verge has a great little interview with Golden and so too does the official site.
- Also on the official site, the co-writer of game, Mitch Dyer, has 7 ways the novel is a great prequel while Amy Ratcliffe has 7 reasons Iden Versio is the bomb.
- Janina does the audiobook version, awesomely enough!
- As usual, if you want great cosplay of a new female character from Star Wars, aka Iden, look no further than Bria!
- Need more reasons to love Janina in the role of Iden? Here’s her freaking out over receiving Iden’s helmet made specifically for her from EA, then wearing it with formal wear, seemingly never letting it go at SDCC, and recreating the poster/cover! Needless to say, you should probably go follow her on Twitter for a daily dose of brightness in your life.
In the end, no matter its literal shortcomings, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad is an exciting, enjoyable read by Christie Golden that will endure you to, and make you ask for more, Iden Versio, while it compellingly plays with your expectations with what it means for someone to be a hero, rebel or Imperial.
+ Iden Versio
+ Compelling, fast-paced read
+ Blurred lines on who to truly root for
+ Certain character reveal
– Shortness breeds some shallowness
– Lacks surprise
ALSO BY CHRISTIE GOLDEN:
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt | Aftermath: Empire’s End
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening
Guardians of the Whills